FIVE YEARS LATER – A Brief History of the NWA: TNA Tag Team Titles

Serendipity. Success is full of it, especially in wrestling. Most of the time, bookers and promoters fail whenever they blunder onwards with so much determination the audience feels taken for granted. However, the fortunate ones have talent on their rosters that can build more natural connections with the fans. TNA’s biggest success has been in not dying after five years worth of blunder, yet they have also been inexorably helped by giving exposure to stars like A.J. Styles, Christopher Daniels and America’s Most Wanted and letting them do their thing. To this end the tag team division has on occasion wound up being proportionately more important in TNA than at any time in WWE in the past five years. It has still been caught up in the midcard miasma now and then, yet there have been plenty of positive memories made – and none of them were in keeping with the overall goal of making Jeff Jarrett feel better about himself.

It all began with the Shane Twins, who went on to achieve such glory when they became wrestling penises as The Johnsons then Simon Dean’s bitches as The Gymini, defending the NWA World Tag Team Titles in Florida. As the NWA got incredibly excited about doing whatever the hell TNA wanted them to do so long as they could do it on PPV, the titles were vacated and put up for grabs on TNA’s third weekly PPV, in Nashville on the 3rd July 2002. A one-night mini-tournament took place, with the Johnsons losing to America’s Most Wanted in the first round, while the Rainbow Express triumphed over Apolo & Buff Bagwell. Yes, that’s the same Apolo who wound up in LAX and killed Scott Steiner’s throat. Meanwhile, AMW were jumped backstage and unable to compete. If ever there was a guy who was ready to wrestle at the drop of a hat, even a cowboy hat, it was Jerry Lynn. He pestered random NWA authority figure Bill Behrens to let him find a partner to replace AMW in the final. Behrens agreed, Lynn chose A.J. Styles and the match was set. If you’re wondering why neither the Johnsons nor Apolo & Bagwell were allowed to get into the final, you’re looking for logic in a Russo ’02 wrestling show and so need to lie down in a dark, quiet room for an hour or two. Styles was the reigning X Division Champion at this point, which was something Lynn was rather jealous about. They wound up defeating the Rainbow Express, a.k.a. Kwee Wee & Lenny Lane, and so your very first NWA World Tag Team Champions of the TNA years were A.J. Styles & Jerry Lynn.

As we all know, Russo likes tag partners at odds with one another about as much as Hulk Hogan likes himself. Styles and Lynn continued to agitate one another until they lost the titles on the 14th August. Their opponents were Jarrett and Ron Killings, who were, wait for it, also feuding with one another! Tremendous. I wonder if Russo starts making the salt and pepper shakers fight halfway through eating his dinner? Killings was also NWA World Heavyweight Champion at this point, by the way. His most over moves were dance moves but, hey, good on him. The match ended with referee Scott Armstrong counting Styles’ pin on Killings and referee Rudy Charles counting Jarrett’s pin on Lynn. Note that despite not being champion, Jarrett still didn’t take the fall. Bob Armstrong, instated as TNA’s latest authority figure earlier that night, declared the titles vacant. Again. Right.

The titles found a new home on the 18th September. It was one they would spend a lot of time in. America’s Most Wanted earned their first reign by winning a Gauntlet for the Gold. This was a relatively straightforward affair for a TNA title extravaganza. Ace Steele & C.M. Punk defeated Wylde & Rave and The Hot Shots to earn a wildcard slot in the Gauntlet, which saw new men enter at one-minute intervals, eliminations occuring by standard Battle Royal rules, and then the remaining two men’s tag partners coming back to join them at the end, when it turned into a regular tag match. The last two were Brian Lee and Chris Harris, so Ron Harris and James Storm came back out and, well, I’ve already given away the ending. Dang.

AMW have won the NWA tag titles more times than any other team in history. Their first reign was relatively tame, initially taking a back seat to Ron Harris splitting from Brian Lee and feuding with his brother Don, head of TNA security, and defending against teams nobody can be bothered remembering by now. Things got a bit more intriguing when Brian Lee returned. The intrigue came not from Brian Lee, of course, but from his new manager, James Mitchell, and the Disciples of the New Church stable that swiftly followed. They first appeared on the 30th October PPV along with Slash, formerly known as Kelly Wolfe of PG-13, putting both Harris and Storm through tables in spectacular fashion. On the 13th November, The New Church became the new tag champs – perhaps the first to count a pornstar as one of their stablemates. The feud continued throughout the winter, overshadowed greatly by Russo’s attempts to get his SEX stable going, including an emphatic beating for the pornstar on the 4th December show. A two-on-two rematch for the titles finally happened on the 8th January 2003, with America’s Most Wanted regaining the championship. Their second reign did not last long but it did herald the start of something truly worthwhile for the first time in TNA…

It all began, as such matters must, with Russo and Jarrett. The former had helped the latter become NWA World Heavyweight Champion only to have his nefarious advances spurned. This led to the formation of the aforementioned Sports Entertainment Extreme, which those capable of spelling might refer to as SEE but those capable of achieving Russocity referred to as SEX. The stable tried to ‘take over’ in a lukewarm nWo rerun, favouring bad grammar and zany mysogyny as Jarrett stood up for the ‘honour’ of ‘real’ pro-rasslin’. It was all very tiresome but did lead to Low Ki, Christopher Daniels and Elix Skipper banding together as Triple X. Oh, wait, I mean xXx. Curiously enough, another team called xXx held the belts a couple of times in 2000. Low Ki and Skipper defeated AMW on the 22nd January to win the belts, invoking the ol’ Freebird rule so that Daniels would be able to defend the belts as well. It was the first time many people had been exposed to the work of Daniels, Skipper and Kicky and their skills shone through even more because of the tripe clogging up the TNA shows at the time. Seriously, if you think it’s bad today just thank your lucky stars you never had to see Glen Gilberti, Zach Gowan, Mike Sanders, Eric Watts and Sonny Siaki all in the one night. Anyway, AMW got themselves a mini-feud against none other than the Rock N Roll Express as the New Church pulled off a quasi-face turn to enter the title fray again and pester Triple X. The Disciples and the Xs clashed for the belts on the 6th February in a match that ended with… wait for it… a double pin! Way to repeat a six-month old angle.

The titles were vacated – again – and a one-night tournament was held – again – on the 13th February. AMW ditched Gibson & Morton in the first match, the reunited Harris Brothers defeated the New Church in the second, and the following week AMW went over the Harris Bros to earn the right to fight Triple X for the vacant title that Triple X held but never lost… but it was vacant… and why the hell did they job out the New Church anyway… christ almighty, that was some shoddy booking. ANYWAY, Harris and Storm finally met Daniels and Kicky on the 12th March. Triple X won, with Daniels pinning Harris after Kicky hit him with a belt, and thus regained the titles… even though they never lost them… kinda like Kurt Angle just did… a thousand monkeys are forming a writer’s union to go on strike… The important thing is that AMW and XXX had one heck of a decent wee match. They would go on to top it later in the year…

However, before we get to that, what we really need is another needless title change! All hail King Russo! XXX successfully retained against the New Church but came up short in a four-way match against Johnny Storm & Chris Sabin, Shark Boy & Jason Cross and Jerry Lynn & Amazing Red, with the latter getting the win after Red pinned Daniels. This led to a straightforward title match between the two teams the next week and, again, XXX could not beat them. Hence, on the 16th April, Jerry Lynn & Amazing Red became champions in a tasty encounter. Red went one step further the week after when he won the X Division Title from Kid Kash. On the 7th May, after some more overdone booking, Daniels wound up facing Lynn & Red in a Handicap Match for the titles. Lynn had recently introduced his ‘new attitude’, which manifested itself in the picking up of a chair and the twatting of people with it. It earned a DQ and, since it’s NWA-TNA, a title change. So Triple X began their third reign by being thoroughly bitched with a chair. Ne’ermind.

Meanwhile, America’s Most Wanted were having some problems with one another after being forced to wrestle each other in a qualifier for a #1 contender battle royal. As we know, their actual break-up didn’t come until years later. They resolved their differences, won an Asylum Alliance Tournament to earn a shot at Triple X, yet every combination of the trio had defeated AMW in the past. On TNA’s one-year anniversary show, on the 18th June, AMW took their shot against Daniels & Skipper. They lost. BUT they lost due to an injured Low Ki being at ringside to interfere. Despite being 0-5 against XXX by now, they got a Cage Match, the first one TNA had done, booked for the 25th June show. It wound up being not just their best match to date but the best TNA match to date, with America’s Most Wanted winning the titles back and bringing the Triple X stable to a close as Kicky left town.

AMW’s next challengers were Simon Diamond & Johnny Swinger. Bit of a letdown, huh? After beating them on the 9th July and 6th August, then in a six-man tag on the 13th August, but finally lost on the 20th August in a Bullrope Match. On the 27th August they fought AGAIN and this time Diamond & Swinger walked away the champions courtesy of some Gilberti interference. To the detriment of many, they held the belts for three long and inglorious months. 3 Live Kru were next, winning the titles on the 26th November in a six-man match that allowed Gilberti to compete provided all members of the Kru could as well. B.G. James, Konnan and Ron Killings had started hanging out over the summer, filming vignettes that, whilst not all that funny, were still more enjoyable than their matches. They had won a Gauntlet Match to get the title shot and successfully clinched the gold thanks to a timely AMW run-in. The ever-lovin’ Kru (take that, ‘crew’) were kind enough to make their first defence against AMW. Like XXX before them, they invoked the Freebird rule and defeated Harris & Storm. On the 28th January 2004, however, they could not defeat Redshirt Security and dropped the titles to them. I’m drawing a complete mental blank on that team and all I can care to find out about them is that they were Kevin Northcutt and Joe Legend – who you might remember as being Just Joe in WWE for a brief and pointless period in 2000.

Clearly by this point the tag ranks had nowhere better to go but back to that old favourite – Whacky Mismatched Partners Who Don’t Trust One Another. A.J. Styles & Abyss were feuding at the time. Bang, slap, whallop, pair ’em up, have ’em win the tag titles on the 4th February. They had an odd deal going on where they would fight and have the winner pick another partner and THAT pair would be the champions, which again demeans the belts since someone would randomly become co-holder for nothing more than smarming up to either one of them – perhaps translating long words in Hickese for A.J. or shaving kittens bald for Abyss to pet. Abyss won with an assist from Lex Luger – and you just KNOW he’s the sort of bloke who would shave kitties.

SWERVE!

Abyss didn’t get to choose his own co-holder, instead Russo vacated the belts to save him from booking a conclusion. A tournament ensued, with Daniels and Kicky reuniting to enter it but failing to get along. Nonetheless, they made it to the final on the 7th April but succumbed to Kid Kash & Dallas. A week later, Kid Kash & Dallas succumbed to D-Lo Brown & Apolo. A week after that, D-Lo Brown & Apolo succumbed to Kid Kash & Dallas. This doesn’t mean much more than I enjoy using the word ‘succumbed’. Say it in a loud voice as fast as you can just as the lights go out in a cinema. People will think you’re cool.

Anyway, TNA was going through some major changes at this time. They had withdrawn from the NWA but held the rights to use their title belts until 2014, which was of course 7 years longer than they needed. The penny had dropped that their weekly PPV business model was not working and so, after a lengthy search, they got a TV station to give them a weekly slot. It was only Fox Sports Network and their new Impact show was relegated to 3pm on Fridays but it was a step in the right direction. They would also soon introduce the six-sided ring that has caused many a casual observer to go “Hmm?” Not everything changed though, as on the first edition of Impact, from Universal Studios on the 3rd June, America’s Most Wanted regained the tag team titles. The goal was to have them get The Naturals over as the next big team and, indeed, after pissing AMW off by stealing their ring gear and the title belts, Chase Stevens and Andy Douglas won the titles on the 7th July PPV. AMW won a non-title Ladder Match against the Naturals soon after to earn a rematch in the Six Sides of Steel, yet they narrowly lost that, with the other teams observing at ringside, in a terrific match.

Try as they might though, neither TNA nor their fans ever really got behind The Naturals all that much. Most of the focus on the tag ranks still went to AMW ,as well as Triple X. Daniels and Skipper had reunited after helping Team NWA to win the World X Cup 2004 and entered the title fray once again. BUT – swerve, etc. On the 8th September the Naturals dropped the belts to Chris Harris & Elix Skipper in the final weekly PPV to be held in Nashville. BUT – swerve again, etc. On the 24th September they lost the titles to James Storm & Christopher Daniels. The mind boggles. The zany schemes came to an end thanks to another team that had stuck together after the X Cup… Team Canada. The AMW/XXX feud was by now above and beyond the realm of the titles and TNA were keen to showcase both those teams and the titles in different matches at their first major PPV, Victory Road. Eric Young & Bobby Roode took the belts cleanly on the 12th October, yet lost them to 3 Live Kru at the PPV on the 7th November. Meanwhile, AMW beat XXX in a Last Man Standing Match. The two separate feuds continued into the following month’s PPV, Turning Point, on the 5th December. That was the same show that had Randy Savage, Jeff Hardy and A.J. Styles teaming up… if ever there was a pro-wrestling team that ought to perform at the Royal Variety show, it’s that one. But anyway, Team Canada took the titles back in a rather arbitrary decision, while America’s Most Wanted and Triple X stole the show in the main event. It as Six Sides of Steel. The losing team had to disband forever. The match still stands as the best in TNA history. Some highlights:

AMW ended the year with a classic match, a triumphant finale to a feud with their greatest rivals, and nothing to stop them getting the tag titles back. At perhaps the peak of their popularity, they did just that at Final Resolution on the 16th January 2005, dropping Young and Roode in another stellar bout. From there it was business as usual for AMW as they kept themselves mildly amused by throwing around various members of Team Canada in various directions during various encounters.v Truth be told, the team began to smell rather stale at this point and it fell upon Chris Candido to liven things up. He had joined TNA and became the manager/coach of The Naturals, who were at this point allied to the Planet Jarrett stable that existed solely to remindvus all how fortunate we were to have such a benevolent wonder as Jeff in our lives. Stevens & Douglas now had more of a purpose than before and successfully regained the tag titles on the 26th April on Impact. To say the reign did not go according to plan is an understatement. Candido had broken his leg in a match with Lance Hoyt against Apolo & Sonny Siaki on the 24th. He got pins and screws put into it during surgery on the 25th. His team won the titles on the 26th. Then he suffered a blood clot and died on the 28th, aged 34. Cruelly, Impact aired on the 29th and the footage of Candido celebrating with the title belts was followed with a tribute graphic in his honour. Blindsided, the Naturals wound up making a de facto face turn and would introduce Jimmy Hart as their new manager in June. Team Canada kept their attention through the summer, while AMW went and got themselves a heel turn to freshen their act (and at the same time help get the NWA World Heavyweight Title back onto our grand exalted Jarrett). At Unbreakable ’05 the Naturals retained against AMW, Team Canada and Alex Shelley & Johnny Candido (Chris’ brother, replacing a no-showing Sean Waltman) in a tribute match watched by the rest of the Candido family at ringside. Shane Douglas made a special presentation of Chris Candido’s towel to Candido’s father, which was picked up on the following year when he became the Natural’s last manager.

Just for the hell of it, here’s Candido taking on everybody’s favourite fur stroker, Khali:

By the 11th October, however, such niceties were over and done with and America’s Most Wanted got their titles back on Impact. This was the seventh reign each for Harris and Storm, a record that remains intact. Perhaps in celebration of this, perhaps just because nobody could be arsed doing anything different, this reign also became the longest of any NWA World Tag Team Champions at 251 days. They now had Gail Kim in their corner to help them out, not to mention timely assists from Jarrett in exchange for cookies and continuing to support his most admirable regime. Or maybe it was just Gail that brought cookies. Whatever, the point is that AMW were not just champions again, they were interesting again too. And, after getting Impact onto Spike TV after the show languished online for a spell, TNA had just signed the once and former Dudley Boys…

However, the Brothers D could not get their hands on the titles. They won a Tables Match at Turning Point ’05 but it was non-title. They won at Final Resolution ’06 but someone called shenanigans, threw powder into the ref’s eyes, invited Team Canada into the ring and AMW wound up keeping the belts after all. It would not be until Slammiversary IV, on the 18th June, that a duo were able to get over the champs – and then it would be the unlikely combination of A.J. Styles & Christopher Daniels. The two had put aside their differences for no discernible reason, although I’d like to think they had formed a club for people who Samoa Joe had almost killed. Anyway, we can’t complain, since the match itself was fantastic. It ended the final reign to date of America’s Most Wanted, who went on to have a very drawn-out break-up angle that was then forgotten about and then brought back and finally followed through – much like sex with a narcoleptic, perhaps.

Daniels & Styles soon incurred the wrath of the new kids on the block, the Latin American Exchange. They answered an open invitation to sign a contract for a title match and, on the 24th August, they won the titles in a Border Brawl on Impact. Not to be outdone, Daniels & Styles reclaimed them in the first-ever tag team Ultimate X bout, at No Surrender ’06, which was later voted TNA’s match of the year. LAX weren’t done yet though, winning the titles once more in a Six Sides of Steel contest at Bound For Glory ’06. Homicide hit the gringocop killa on Styles while we were treated to the frankly hilarious sight of Konnan leaving Daniels tied to the cage with a coat hanger. Ooh, Konnan and his nifty wardrobe chicanery…

LAX had rapidly become one of, if not the, hottest acts in the promotion. Clearly, this was not supposed to happen and had to be stopped. When Jim Cornette, TNA’s latest head honcho, stripped them of the belts on the 19th November they had to quietly pretend the decision had never been made, so strong was the negative reaction from the fans. They wound up feuding with AMW and actually forced Harris & Storm to disband after losing a Titles vs Careers bout on the 14th December, albeit only after Storm had twatted Harris with a beer bottle on purpose. Into 2007, TNA management continued to be rather half-hearted about pushing LAX anywhere near as far as their heat would have taken them. Konnan was still viewed as the star, while Homicide and Hernandez were viewed more as goons than as talents, and yet Konnan had major health concerns and issues with management. They wound up in a very protracted and insipid feud with Team 3-D, which saw them beating up the Brothers’ family and friends, having something called a Belting Pot Lumberjack Match that included one of the Sopranos, then a Ghetto Brawl, and then that sodding Electrified Cage Match at Lockdown ’07. The less said about that the better but suffice it to say that on the 15th April Team 3-D finally added the NWA tag belts to their resume.

And there we have it. The most memorable thing about 3D’s reign thus far has been the NWA throwing a hissy fit and removing their belts from TNA. They were stripped of them on the 13th May and silently awarded the TNA World Tag Team Titles instead as the world continued to turn in blissful ignorance of the whole thing. The NWA belts remain vacant at time of writing, while Team 3D recently began an unprecedented feud with the Steiners that ground to a premature halt when Scott suffered a serious throat injury in Puerto Rico. At Victory Road ’07 they will defend their titles in a Match of the Champions against TNA World Heavyweight Champion Kurt Angle and TNA X Division Champion Black Machismo, with all three titles on the line. Expect shenanigans. Expect the TNA version of the tag team titles to have as fractured a beginning as the NWA version did when they first entered the promotion. Expect… more accurately… HOPE that in time TNA will again provide us with tag teams that can thrill the crowds as the likes of America’s Most Wanted, Triple X, Styles & Daniels and the early months of the Latin American Exchange have done. Will Chris Sabin & Alex Shelley provide the impetus for a tag renaissance? Will Scott and Rick Steiner ever face Ray & Devon? Does Russo SWERVE to the left or to the right? And who the hell am I talking to anyway? Go. I’m tired now.

For Pulse Wrestling’s official TNA World Heavyweight title history, click here.

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